Southeastern Conference proves competitive
Jim Render scoffs at those who say his undefeated Upper St. Clair football team has played nothing but pansies this autumn.
“It’s very frustrating,” Render said. “We’ve played everybody that we were supposed to play. People act like every team was a pushover.
“You try playing Woodland Hills as your opener at their place in 90-degree heat. How tough is that? Then play Penn Hills at their place with their talent. That’s tough. And then there’s this one with Bethel,” Render said referring to the brutal battle that saw several players on both sides loose their helmets because of the fierce hitting.”
A quick glance at the Southeastern Conference standings bears out Render’s reasoning. With two weeks remaining in the regular season, only winless Plum (0-7) is mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.
After a 28-13 triumph over the Hawks, USC sits atop the league with a 6-0 mark followed by Woodland Hills (5-1); Bethel Park (5-2), Penn Hills (4-2) and Peters Township (3-3). The Panthers are 7-0 overall and ranked No. 1 in the district as well as No. 2 in the state behind unbeaten Coatesville.
The Panthers demonstrated their might versus their neighbor last week. In beating Bethel, USC rolled up 378 yards of offense. Though Joe Repischak completed 9 of 13 passes for 138 yards, the ground game accounted for all of USC’s scores. Mac Pope rushed for the first two touchdowns on 1- and 2-yard runs. Trevor Morrow and Stephen Mackowick bolted 7 and 32 yards for two, fourth-quarter scores.
Though BP snapped USC’s five-game shutout streak by recording back-to-back field goals of 20 and 23 yards by Danny Christenson, the Panthers defense stood firm when necessary. BP’s only TD came with 4:14 to play when Levi Metheny connected with Jacob Greiner for a 13-yard scoring strike.
The USC defense has allowed just 23 points in seven games, a 3.25 average. The Panthers have surrendered 496 rushing and 335 passing yards all season. Kyle Page (54), Jesse Slinger (40), Ben Huss (37), Morgan Lee (36) and J.J. Conn (28) are the top tacklers. Huss and Rori Blair lead in the sack department followed by Pope.
Though the Panthers fumbled three times and were penalized eight times for 72 yards, once which negated a 29-yard TD run by Repischak, they limited BP to 176 yards of offense, 69 rushing and 107 passing.
“I’m really proud of our defense,” said Render. “Our kids were very gutsy, particularly on a couple of those goal-line stands.
“Our defenses were based on their sets. We did not dial up anything different. We did what we do best. They took their best shot and we played tough and didn’t let them get anything. We stopped them.”
Nobody has stopped the Panthers, who are led offensively by Morrow’s 635 yards rushing, Pope’s 12 TDs, Lee’s 11 receptions and Repischak’s 725 yards passing. And, it’s unlikely Plum will this week. The Mustangs, who are 0-7, host USC at 7 p.m. Oct. 18. USC is on the road for its final regular season contest, a fray against Mt. Lebanon at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 25.
The Blue Devils are one of four teams in contention for the fifth playoff slot in the conference and perhaps the wild card in the Quad-A classification.
The WPIAL’s largest division features three conferences of 26 and 16 of them advance to the playoffs. The top five in each league automatically qualify while the remaining team with the best record from all of the conferences will fill the final vacancy. Thus, even Canon-McMillan, with its 1-6 conference mark and 1-7 record, remains a contender.
While Lebo (2-4, 2-5) hosts Penn Hills at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18, the Big Macs travel to Baldwin (2-4, 2-5). CM, which lost to Woodland Hills, 34-0, last week, concludes conference play against Peters Township (3-3, 4-3). The Indians took a big step toward a playoff berth when they defeated Lebo, 39-35, in a wild battle last week in McMurray.
Heading into the Wolvarena for a clash with Woodland Hills this Friday, Oct. 18, Peters Township holds the No. 5 position in the conference and the edge in the playoff race as the Indians have also beaten Baldwin earlier this season.
Lebo head coach Mike Melnyk was correct when he called Cory Owen the ‘linchpin’ in the PT offense. The junior quarterback rushed for 176 yards and four touchdowns of 1, 9, 38 and 32 yards while Marcus Ubinger rolled up 194 yards on the ground and one score of two yards. Mark Minjock also racked up a TD on a 43-yard scamper. Sean Harrison and Matt Weigand kicked one and two extra points respectively.
Eddie Jenkins, Jake Rolfsen and Troy Apke kept pace with the Indians. A sophomore signal caller, Jenkins completed 10 of 21 passes for 235 yards. He connected with Troy Apke for a pair of scoring strikes, measuring 33 and 84 yards. Also for Lebo, Rolfsen rushed for two touchdowns of 68 and 65 yards.
In Penn Hills, Mt. Lebanon faces another talented QB with a penchant for running. Billy Kisner rushed for 245 yards and two scores in guiding the Indians to a 33-10 win against Plum last week.
Finally, coming off the punishing loss to USC, Bethel Park has little time to recover. Though the Hawks play outside the conference, their opponent is Seneca Valley.
The Raiders, who edged North Hills, 24-17, after two overtime periods, trail only No. 2-ranked Central Catholic in the Northern Eight Conference. While the Vikings are undefeated, Seneca Valley is 5-1 overall and 4-1 in the conference.
The Hawks are led by Alex Minton and Zac Enick in the tailback slots and Levi Metheny at quarterback. Minton led BP in rushing against USC with 37 yards. Metheny completed 12 of 22 passes for 107 yards. His top targets proved to be Jacob Greiner, 55 yards including the TD catch, Gary Gerst, Minton, Connor McGinnis and Danny Emma. Chris Papalia averaged 41 yards on seven punts. Richard Pfeuffer had one fumble recovery.